It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Two great early shots define the two worlds of “Shy People.” The first is circular, the second straight ahead. The film’s opening shot circles at a vertiginous height above Manhattan, showing the canyons of skyscrapers with people scurrying below like ants. The camera moves through a complete circle, finally coming to rest inside a high-rise apartment where a restless teenager and her distracted mother have no idea what to do about each other.
The second shot, a few minutes later in the film, also is taken from a height. We are above a speedboat that drones relentlessly into the heart of the Louisiana bayou country. This shot, inexplicably thrilling, is like scenes from adventure books we read when we were kids. We feel a quickening of excitement as the boat penetrates the unknown.
The two shots define the two women who are at the heart of the film. Jill Clayburgh plays a shallow, sophisticated Manhattan magazine writer who convinces her bosses at Cosmopolitan to let her write about her family roots. And Barbara Hershey plays Clayburgh’s long-lost distant cousin who lives in isolation in a crumbling, mossy home in the heart of the bayou. The movie essentially is about the differences between these women, about family blood ties, and about the transparent membrane between life and death.
“Shy People” is one of the great visionary films of recent years, a film that shakes off the petty distractions of safe Hollywood entertainments and develops a large vision. It is about revenge and hatred, about mothers and sons, about loneliness. It suggests that family ties are the most important bonds in the world. And by the end of the film, Clayburgh will discover that Hershey is closer to her husband, who has been missing for 15 years, than most city dwellers are to anybody.